By Lillian R. Mongeau
When I tell people that I am a graduate student in journalism I get a funny look. I know what they’re thinking: Why would she be willing to take on huge loans to get a degree that will only qualify her to work in a dying industry? Is she stupid, or just incredibly naïve?
This is a fair question.
Newsrooms are shrinking, not growing, right now. Newsroom salaries are shrinking, too, and school is not cheap. Of course, none of this shrinkage has happened because the thirst for news has slackened. Millions of people are tuning in every day for free news online, a fact that is causing middle-age editors everywhere to tear their hair out.
Young people are the most serious offenders of online news reading. According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, nearly 60 percent of people younger than 30 reported getting the vast majority of their news online. The average age of students in journalism graduate programs hovers around 27. We are not freaked out by this new desire for free news because we expect to get our news for free online.
Now, before you decide that I am in fact naïve and stupid, I know that quality journalism can’t be done for free and that the news we read online doesn’t appear there magically. At UC Berkeley, where I attend school, we work all hours to keep our hyper-local Web site accurate, up-to-date and high quality. News is not produced for free, however it might be consumed.
Nevertheless, I am convinced there is a solution to this problem, and so are my classmates. We are not naïve, but we are optimistic. Add hungry, dedicated and creative and you start to see my point. Those of us who’ve chosen to pursue a journalism degree at this particular moment in time do so in preparation for our role in shaping the journalism of the future.
Lillian Mongeau is in the Class of 2011 at University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. An earlier version of this essay appeared in The Oregonian on July 25, 2009.